How Does Ovarian Cancer Affect Women of Childbearing Age?

The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age. However, women of childbearing age can also be diagnosed with the disease.

Childbearing age, or reproductive age, is generally thought of as the period of time where a woman is menstruating or able to have a child. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines this as women between the ages of 15 and 49.1

Ovarian cancer and age

Research shows that most ovarian cancers develop after menopause. This is the time that marks the end of menstrual cycles after you have gone 1 year without a menstrual period. The age of onset of menopause can vary widely. In the United States, the average age is 51.2

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Half of all ovarian cancers are diagnosed in women 63 years old or older. Ovarian cancer is rare in women who are under the age of 40. However, some types of ovarian tumors are more likely to occur in younger women. These include:3,4

  • Teratomas
  • Dysgerminomas
  • Ovarian stromal tumors
  • Teratomas

    Teratomas are germ cell tumors that come in 2 types: mature (noncancerous or benign) and immature (cancerous). Mature ovarian teratomas typically affect women in their teens through their 40s. These teratomas may also be called dermoid cysts. They may contain different kinds of benign tissues, including bone, hair, and teeth. They are often surgically removed.4

    Immature teratomas are cancerous. They occur in girls and young women, usually before the age of 18. These tumors contain cells that are similar to those from embryonic or fetal tissues. Tumors that have not spread beyond the ovary are usually treated by surgical removal of the ovary. If the cancer has spread past the ovary, surgery and chemotherapy are typically recommended.4

    Dysgerminomas

    Dysgerminomas are rare, but they are the most common type of ovarian germ cell cancer. This type of cancer typically affects women in their teens and 20s. These tumors are slow-growing. Tumors that have not spread beyond the ovary are often treated by surgical removal of the ovary, with no further treatment needed. In cases where the cancer has spread beyond the ovary, treatment usually includes surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy.4

    Ovarian stromal tumors

    Ovarian stromal tumors only make up about 1 percent of ovarian cancer cases, but about 5 percent of them occur in young girls. These tumors produce hormones and can often cause early periods and pre-pubescent breast development.4

    Risk factors and age at diagnosis

    There are a variety of risk factors for ovarian cancer. Some of these factors can contribute to earlier age at diagnosis. Genetic risk factors like mutations or family cancer syndromes can increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer at an earlier age.

    The biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer is having a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Women with either of these mutations have an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. This also increases the risk of developing cancer at an earlier age.5,6

    Connection between age, treatment, and survival

    Women of childbearing age who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer may want to protect their fertility, especially if they have not had any children yet. If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and are of childbearing age, talk with your doctor about your options. Treatment teams do not always address this with people. If it is important to you, make a note to ask them and discuss your options.

    Women under the age of 65 who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer tend to have better outcomes compared to women who are over 65 when they are diagnosed. This could be because they may be in better overall health or better able to handle more intensive treatment. However, each person is different, and this can vary widely.7

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    Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: May 2021